HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF VIRGINIA
Historical geography looks at the ways the land of Virginia has been evaluated and used by different peoples over time. In this course we break the time that Virginia has been settled into several periods:
Precolonial or pre-Contact or the Native American period — from roughly 12,000 years ago to 1600 AD. The inhabitants of this time include the first settlers, the Paleo-Indians. They were followed by peoples of Archaic Culture, who themselves were followed by peoples of Woodland Culture. Our emphasis in on the last group, who were in Virginia when Europeans first arrived. Three language families comprised the Woodland peoples of pre-Contact Virginia: Algonkian, Siouan, and Iroquois.
Seventeenth century (1600s) — This was the "Tidewater Era" when an American or Virginian culture began to develop among European settlers on the Coastal Plain. Some European ways of life were abandoned or modified as a mixing of Native American, European, and African cultures took place. Also the roots of American slavery are in Virginia during this time.
Eighteenth century (1700s) — This period saw several major changes occur in Virginia: new parts of the colony were settled and by ethnic groups different from that dominating the Coastal Plain; African slaves were imported in great numbers; the American Revolution changed Virginia's economic and political relationships and status as it became one state out of 13 in the new United States of America and developed as but one part of a national economic system.
Nineteenth century (1800s) — The War Between the States and a changing world scene once again altered Virginia's development and the state began to industrialize and urbanize.
Twentieth century (1900s) — A depression and two world wars stimulated economic development in Virginia, helped diversify her economy, and attracted newcomers to the state again. Until the 1990s the economy was remarkably stable, but new challenges face the state in the post-Cold War era and high tech age.
GEOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVES: HOW GEOGRAPHERS LOOK AT HISTORY
Two themes will dominate our consideration of the history of Virginia: sequential occupation and changing land use patterns. Below I will outline the major questions that you need to be able to answer for each period of time and for each theme.
Sequential occupation: The emphasis here is on the various people who have occupied various parts of the state, why they came, how they survived (that is, whether their economy was subsistence or commercial and what they produced), and what imprints they left on the land. For each time period you should know:
Land use patterns: Here the emphasis is on how the culture and especially its economy are expressed on the land. We examine the locations of settlements, their size and spacing; if the economy is predominantly agricultural, we want to know what crops are grown or what type of livestock is raised, how fields or pastures are sited, how fields are cultivated or pastures managed; if the economy is industrial we want to know what is produced, where the factories are located and why they are there and not elsewhere; if the economy is commercial we want to know where the major markets are and what are the transportation links between production centers and markets, where are the major competitors, what are consequences on settlement density, quality of life, etc., etc. For each of the time periods, you should be able to describe and explain for all the major physiographic subregions of Virginia:
- who? (ethnic groups)
- when? (time period and who they replaced)
- where? (to level of physiographic subregions)
- why? (different factors cause people to want to leave their homelands and other factors attract them to settle specific new areas.
- how? (the economies of the different peoples, places, and times)
- What is the basic settlement pattern?
a) dispersed homesteads or concentrated (nucleated) settlements (villages, town, cities)
b) where do settlements and commercial establishments tend to be clustered?
- What is the prevailing economy?
agricultural (type and method)
- What is the economic (and, hence, often political ) orientation or focus of the region?
a) where are major markets?
b) what are major transportation routes (links)?
- Why is a particular economy dominant in a particular region at a particular time; that is,
what is the geographic situation of the region?
- What are the interrelationships between economy, settlement patterns, and transportation systems?
A small sampling of web sites dealing with the history of Virginia (let me know if you find other good ones!):
History of Jamestown
Guide to Historic Virginia
class home page
Posted 3/25/97 by SLW.